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The Forest Seed Pool
Taiwan is blessed with plentiful forest resources which have often been coveted and exploited by foreign rulers. After several centuries of exploitation, only 58% of Taiwan’s original forest lands now remain.
Following World War II the wood export business was the heart of Taiwan’s economic development machine, earning large foreign currency exchanges and providing a foundation for Taiwan’s industrial and commercial development. However, mass logging has also left exposed marks on the land and changed the ecology of the forests. Reforestation is a task which cannot be delayed if the life of the forests is to be continued, and preservation of seeds is the first basic step toward developing seedlings and the most economical and effective way to balance supply and demand while preserving the genes of plants.
The forest seed refrigerator at the Taiwan Forest Research Institute was installed in 1956, and it served as the best method of balancing supply and demand from the ‘60s to the ‘80s. The refrigerator and original storage unit were upgraded in 2000 to ensure constant temperatures in the refrigerator and precision in research experiments. Currently the storage unit is equipped with refrigerators set at -20℃, 4℃, and 15℃for seeds with various needs.
Taiwan lies in the subtropical zone, and forest seeds can be classified into four categories - orthodox, intermediate, temperate zone recalcitrant, and tropical recalcitrant. The orthodox seeds include the cones of softwoods (pines, firs, and cypresses) and smaller broad-leaf trees (alder, sweet gum, Chinese pistache, Taiwan rain tree, and ash tree). When storing seeds of this type, the moisture level must be lowered to 3-7% and the temperature maintained at -20℃; seeds can be kept active for over a hundred years in such an environment. “Intermediate” type seeds can still survive even if they are dried to 6-12% moisture level, but most of them are sensitive to sub-zero temperatures so they must be stored between 4℃ and 15℃. Seeds in this category include the commonly seen camphor, elm, and maple. Temperate zone recalcitrant seeds are less tolerant of dryness, so they are more suitable for storage criteria at temperatures between 0℃ and 4℃ with higher moisture. Seeds in this category include the Fagaceae and most of the Lauraceae trees. The “tropical recalcitrant” seeds are least tolerant to dryness and low temperature. They commonly die in mid or short term in temperatures under 15℃, although they may revive when the temperature is raised again. Thus this type of seed is the most difficult to store, and seeds in this category are mostly larger trees grown in the Hengchun Peninsula and Lanyu, including Taiwan ebony, the looking glass tree (Heritiera littoralis, Dryand.), Lanyu Litseae, and mangrove.
Currently seed storage at the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute focuses on collecting and preserving seeds of important and rare species on a long-term basis and establishing a database of stored plants. It aims at preserving gene diversity and facilitating sustainable development. The updating of refrigerators and monitoring equipment done in 2000 ensures a maximum lifespan for seeds and achieves the goal of ex situ gene preservation. Both collecting plant seeds and storing them in manmade storage and planting rare species inside of a botanic garden are classified as ex situ preservation.
The most important job of the Seed Storage Unit at the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute is to preserve the gene diversity of the forest trees. Therefore the mission of seed storage is to collect seeds of different species as well as from different origins. In recent years, researchers at the institute have been working in the field to collect seeds of different species in order to preserve the diversity of the gene pool. In addition to seed collecting, seed storage at the institute also serves as a facility for temporary accommodation for other public agencies and research units.
Currently seed storage at the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute includes a good collection of important and rare endemic species as well as many foreign species. The total number of collections has reached 226 species and 1090 seed groups, and the number is constantly increasing. These seeds serve the mission of preserving the forest gene resources, and they are also exchanged internationally as part of the nation's contribution to the world's gene diversity and resource development.